Since the start of the Arab Spring, Arab street art has broken through with a bang. Before, graffiti used to be quite rare in Arab countries. New forms of street art developed in Egypt, Syria, Libya, and even in conservative Saudi Arabia. Murals, graffiti and the use of templates have become symbols of the revolution and add an iconic visual language resonating in public space to the uprisings. Young people use these critical, creative means of expression to vent their frustrations about and protest against political oppression and those in power.
This week, the Egyptian authorities had the graffiti walls in the vicinity of Tahrir Square repainted. But resistance was quick to jump back up, with spray cans and with a new target: president Mohammed Morsi.
Graffiti artists assembled on Wednesday and Thursday to express their anger. They say that their murals represent the martyrs, the regime, and people looking for freedom and democracy. They call it a recollection of the place where historical events took place and a homage to the activists who died during the uprising. Although official reports claim that Morsi was not involved in the decision of repainting the wall and that it was rather the Cairo governor’s order, both artists and activists hold the newly elected president responsible: “We thought Morsi would leave these images as they were.” However, the governor was not available for comments and Prime Minister Hisham Kandil sought to distance himself from the clean-up, calling for even more graffiti that renders the spirit of the revolution of January 25. The riot police stationed along the road watched, but did not interfere.
Rebelling Saudi style. This symbol of Mecca is the work of Sarah Mohanna Al Abdali, a 22-year old graphic design student. Al Abdali sprayed her Mecca symbol on walls around the historical city center of Jeddah, where it would be seen by as many passers-by as possible. Her sign is an indictment of the over-development of Mecca, the holy city of Islam. To her, street art is made for the people: “It is a simple way to express oneself. It wasn’t about a beautiful work of art, I wanted to engender a debate.”
Street art is a new phenomenon n Saudi Arabia and was inspired by the graffiti revolution of the Arab Spring.
Under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, political opposition and independent cultural expression were not allowed. Today’s Libya is being plastered in a gigantic graffiti catching up effort.
After the fall of the former president Ben Ali, local street artists have reclaimed the public space once tightly controlled by the police and security services. This led to a notable shift in the cultural landscape and the flowering of artistic expression of professional artists and amateurs alike.
While the revolution spread through Twitter and Facebook in Egypt and Libya, graffiti was the instrument that fired the uprising in Syria. The revolution started as a result of a message written on a wall. Political slogans characterise Syrian street art, as it is called the war of the walls.
Street art as an artistic heritage will always be used to denounce injustice.
Translated by Mark Eijkman
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